Whether you’re just starting out in your career or rising up the ranks, we could all use a little wisdom from people who have been there. That’s where a mentor comes in. Think of a professional mentor like a trusted advisor. They can answer your pressing questions, and help you to build your confidence, polish your skills, and get promoted. They’ll also drive you to be better, so you can succeed now and grow in the future.
Here’s what to look for in a mentor…
First things first: does your mentor know what they’re talking about? You don’t necessarily need a mentor who has decades of experience. But you do need one who’s a pro at something that you want to do. Think about your career goals, and look for a mentor who ‘walks the walk’ and has a great reputation in their role or industry. Or, think about the specific skills you want to develop and find a mentor who can teach you.
Willingness to learn
Success aside, your mentor should set a good example for professional development. The greatest mentors are always learning by reading, going to conferences, taking training courses and so on. If they give back by guest speaking, even better! They should stay on top of the trends and technology in the field and have goals of their own. With all this enthusiasm, they’ll be able to help you to navigate your career – especially in the early years.
Let’s talk inspiration! The best mentor for YOU is someone who has faced similar challenges to you, and overcame them. They’ve broken down those obstacles and come out the other side, so they’re in a good position to give advice from a personal and professional standpoint. Maybe they dealt with discrimination in the workforce. Maybe they had to work twice as hard to prove themselves and advance in their career. Or maybe they launched their business with the same budget or barriers as you. They get it, so they’ll want to give you the help or insights they didn’t have.
Do you vibe with your mentor? Do you share the same values? You can’t force this kind of connection. Before asking someone to be your mentor, do your research. Check out their company profile, listen to podcasts they’re featured in, and read interviews about them. This stalking research will help you to figure out if you’re a personality fit – and if you have the same kind of determination. For example, if you’re an eternal optimist, there’s no point working with someone who is “glass half empty”. If you’re dead-set on maintaining a work-life balance, avoid anyone who brags about how they get into the office at 6am and leave at 11pm.
A mentor is there to share their experiences and lessons. If you don’t really like them as a person, you won’t get much out of the relationship.
A mentor is there to give you direct, actionable and constructive feedback. If they’re a #bosslady (or man), their time is probably limited, so make the most of it! They should be comfortable with telling you when – and how – to improve, pull back on, or change something. At the same time, they should also celebrate your success! A mentor-mentee relationship is about the ups as much as the downs, and the best mentors are coaches and cheerleaders. (Bonus points if they have pom poms.)
Someone could have the right set of skills and expertise, but if they’re not willing to share their own story, keep hunting! A mentor needs to be open to spilling on their successes AND failures they faced on their career path. That’s where the juiciest lessons are. Mistakes are the ultimate teaching tools (annoying, but that’s life). If you wanted the highlight reel, you’d look at their LinkedIn…
This one’s pretty straightforward! Chances are, your mentor will be smarter and more successful than you. That’s why patience is important. They need to be able to listen to your concerns or issues and have a conversation about them. No-one wants a mentor who loves a good ol’ monologue.
A good mentor sees your potential (even when you don’t) and challenges you – to think bigger, to branch out beyond your comfort zone, and to innovate. They push you to try new things or to take that leap. They make you feel comfortably uncomfortable, and I’ll stop with the clichés now! For that reason, your bestie or family friend might not be the best mentor.
We’ve all heard the saying: It’s who you know. Once you’ve worked with your mentor for a while, they should be happy to introduce you to important contacts. Personal introductions can lead to career opportunities, or at the very least, they’ll put you on a VIP’s radar. Your network is everything, and a good mentor can open doors for you.
Words by Katia Iervasi